Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Disappointment in the Lack of Voices for a New Vision for Trenton High School

It has been months since New Jersey announced plans to move forward with a new Trenton High School, and so far there has been a vacuum where there instead should be a cauldron full of ideas about what this new school should look like, not physically but in terms of facilities, resources, programs, and its leadership. There has similarly been almost no public discussion about creating a new "connectedness" between the school, parents, and stakeholders in the business and non-profit communities. All of this is very disappointing.

Urban education is a failure throughout New Jersey, and it is my belief that Trenton High can become a grand experiment in reform. Let's be honest, there is little that we can do that will make things any worse than they are now. If there is no risk taking there will be no improvement, period. What is not needed is another government mandate or another government attempt at creating "this or that" program to help.

What we need to do is to move in the opposite direction, and create a school that is free of any sort of interference from the State. The State can help provide resources, but the school itself should "stand alone," working with local stakeholders to develop programs that meet the needs of today's urban students. To suggest that these needs are necessarily the same as all other New Jersey districts is simply a lie. Our suburban schools, especially our affluent ones, are college driven, and have families and a community that can provide all of the resources needed to secure that goal.

Our urban schools must be driven by more practical needs. This is not to say that some urban students won't be heading to college, but that should not be the organizing principle of its programs. Until we can admit that a "one size fits all" approach to education will not work we will never be able to make improvement in our cities.

The best way to approach this is to turn THS into a public charter school and let it be a "demonstration school," an experiment in reform that, if successful, will provide a blueprint for other urban schools in New Jersey.

I don't know where the effort to transform Trenton High will come from, but it must start soon. If we allow Trenton High School to become simply a glossier version of the old school we will have denied our students true opportunity at a better future. I don't know why some old white guy former teacher in the suburbs seems to be the only voice for real change in our new Trenton High, but it's pretty disappointing. I've contacted Jeff Edelstein and L.A. Parker at the Trentonian, and I've submitted Op-Eds at the Times, and no one seems to think I am worth the time. I certainly hope they care more about the kids in Trenton than they care about me.

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